Hurricane Florence’s course is tracking well north of Flagler County, barreling its way toward the North Carolina Coast with catastrophic potential for flooding, erosion and other damage in North and South Carolina. Its effects will likely be minimal in Flagler, county officials are saying at the moment, but they’re also urging residents–especially those who are new to Flagler–to continue to prepare for the remainder of hurricane season.
“Rainfall is expected to be less than an inch in Flagler County,” said Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord. “However, we are expecting to see tides that are higher than normal, in addition to higher surf from swells.”
At this time, it is unlikely that there will be any significant impacts to the Intracoastal Waterway unless wind conditions change, which would effectively restrict the flow of the Intracoastal. Wednesday afternoon the storm was 385 miles from Wilmington, N.C., with its current path placing landfall somewhat south of Wilmington sometime Friday, and possibly stalling for a while, and slowly moving southwest. Mandatory evacuations affecting 1 million people were likely to send at least some evacuees toward Florida. Power losses are expected to affect 3 million and stretch over weeks. A storm surge of up to 15 feet is currently predicted in coastal North Carolina.
For Flagler, any risk of coastal erosion, however minor, would be a critical issue right now as the county is still in the midst of its dune-rebuilding efforts.
“County staff will be monitoring weather conditions and conditions on the ground for any breaches or any other developing coastal impacts,” said County Administrator Craig Coffey. “County staff will be ready to respond if necessary.”
The National Weather Service in Jacksonville is cautioning that there is a high risk of rip currents locally through Friday, rough surf, and minor tidal flooding.
Meanwhile Flagler County is doing its part to send help to the Carolinas. “We had so much help when the hurricanes came through here, we’re repaying that time and we’re sending them whatever they need,” Flagler Fire Chief Don Petito said.
On Tuesday, 10 rescue units from Flagler, Hillsborough, Pasco, St. Johns and Clay made their way up I-95 in a convoy, with Flagler’s own Capt. Richard Bennett and Lt. Jason Powell in command of the contingent. They headed to Durham, N.C., to get their orders, and were expected to take part in evacuations until the storm strikes. After that, they’re expected to take part in rescue missions.
“Right now the orders are for eight days,” Petito said.
The contingent is organized through the Emergency Management Association Compact, which divides Florida into several collections of counties’ emergency services. Flagler is in Region 3, made up of 13 counties, and Petito is in charge of Region 3. The state called him, told him what was needed, and he put together Flagler County’s Strike Team, which also includes Dave Lawrence and Kyle Najpaver.
The team is one of five traveling from Florida.
“We ask that Flagler County keeps both our local responders and the communities to our north in their thoughts,” said Fire Chief Don Petito. “No one wants to hear that any community may be facing a life-threatening storm, but we do feel confident that our team is well trained, well equipped, and prepared to make a difference in the deployment area.”
Flagler County IT Administrator/E911 Database Specialist Suzanne Eubanks was also notified to expect deployment as part of the Northeast Florida All Hazards Incident Management Team and to anticipate travel this week.
It is important to remember that September is National Preparedness Month, and the peak of the hurricane season in Flagler County, though recall that Hurricane Matthew in 2016 struck in early October. Hurricane season doesn’t end before Nov. 1.
“Our residents have become experienced after being affected by hurricanes Matthew and Irma over the past two seasons,” Lord said. “While every storm is different, it’s a good idea for new residents to talk with their neighbors about localized problem areas.”
Visit www.flaglercounty.org/emergency to sign up for AlertFlagler notifications, as well as information about how to get a disaster kit, make a disaster plan, and become informed about the risks in our community.
“Be prepared. Be safe. Be diligent. Continue to monitor trusted sites – like Flagler County’s website and dedicated social media,” Coffey said. “Our Emergency Management staff is prepared and ready to respond if necessary.”